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I once saw on TV a factory dipping a product into a tank of paint and it magically emerged with a crisp pattern. (It was an Archery bow, and the pattern was army-style camouflage).

Was I deceived or is it actually possible?

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This sounds like hydrographic printing. In short a design is printed onto a water soluble film and floated in a container of water to apply it to a surface.

It is generally used to apply complex and detailed patterns to curved and irregularly shaped surfaces as it conforms well to contours, especially as a cheaper and more repeatable alternative to hand painting.

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